The Gondola Maker

Written by Laura Morelli
Review by Steve Donoghue

Morelli, author of Made in Italy, sets her new book The Gondola Maker in Venice, 1581, and centers her story on Luca Vianello, heir to one of the city’s most prestigious families of gondola-makers. Morelli gives us the story of Luca’s life (and his eventual, almost unthinkable, distancing of himself from his family’s celebrated craft). His character, the characters of his various friends and family members are well-drawn. But it is in the broader atmospherics that The Gondola Maker really shines; Morelli’s extensive research into 16th-Century Venice shines on every page. Dialogue is filled with Venetian slang, and the talk of the Vianello clan is peppered with the intricate argot of gondolas and gondola-making. Through Luca’s various adventures, we see the entire world of Venice, from the sparkling palaces of the rich noble and merchant families to the dungeons of the Doge.

Luca himself can be a bit tedious at times, and the book’s love stories fall a bit flat, but the narrative’s marvelous abundance of detail more than compensates, giving readers a compelling and panoramic view of Venice at the height of its wealth, power, and glamor. Highly recommended.